Ben Kaufmann, the bass player for Yonder Mountain String Band, or YMSB, comes from Utah’s neighbor to the east, Colorado, which is undergoing a lot of attention for its legalization of recreational marijuana.
Kaufmann, joined by Dave Johnston (banjo), Jeff Austin (mandolin) and Adam Aijala (guitar), has ascended to the top of the modern bluegrass movement since its beginnings in the small Colorado mountain town of Nederland.
Kaufmann, whose band will play at Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee in June and will headline a return engagement at The Depot on April 2, talked to The Tribune about Mary Jane, molé, and the communal powers of bluegrass.
Being from Colorado, do you have any special affection for Utah?
Both states share that wide-open, expansive landscape, which I believe is somehow internalized and represented in the mindset of the people who live there. But my experience with Utah is limited to a few cities played once a year so I can’t pretend to have my finger on the pulse of what it truly means to be from there. I do very much look forward to our time there, which is more than I can say for some of the other spots we find ourselves.
Do you have any special memories of Utah?
Arguably the best molé (not the rodent) I’ve ever eaten. And I will never forget wearing my brand-new cowboy boots out for a walk around Salt Lake City only to develop the worst blisters I’ve ever had and subsequently needing to walk back to the tour bus in my socks. You have very, very long city blocks.
What is Nederland like, and did it affect YMSB’s formation or development?
Nederland is Yonder’s mother. It birthed us and cared for us. It fed us and nurtured us. It’s a small mountain town whose population is split between old-timers and young liberals. And both seemingly opposite groups would gather five nights a week at various bars to play bluegrass together, to share music. It is utterly important to us.
Has the legalization of recreational marijuana changed your lives in any way?
Concurrent with the cannabis legislation has been an increase in property values and an even more obvious increase in the cost of renting. We are watching the birth of a new industry and one that needs infrastructure. I don’t recall seeing anything like it in the 20 years I lived in Colorado. A lot of people are going to make a lot of money. My prayer is that the revenue generated can be used truly and directly for improving the quality of the state’s school systems. It’s a grand experiment and the whole nation is watching.
If you had the chance to add something to the Bill of Rights, what would it be?
There clearly needs to be an inclusion of language that protects the right of Americans with respect to the Internet and online privacy. Perhaps the most important issue of the day.
What are your plans for Bonnaroo?
Our set at Bonnaroo has to come out of the gate on fire and stay lit for the duration. It’s yet another opportunity for us to prove to the world that banjos rock harder than electric guitars. I am overwhelmingly excited for the opportunity.
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